|Ksenia Tikhonenko played a senior-like role in her team's first victory at this year's EuroLeague Women Final Eight|
By Paul Nilsen
Touted as a future star of Russian basketball from the moment she first pulled on a national team vest at youth level, Ksenia Tikhonenko has seemingly come of age at the EuroLeague Women Final Eight.
Handed the responsibility of playing serious court-time for Sparta&K on the first two days, her display against Kayseri Kaski Spor was perhaps her breakthrough performance.
It wasn't that she necessarily scored an efficient 15 points on seven-of-nine floor shooting, or pulled down eight rebounds.
Most impressively of all, she competed physically and maintained her intensity throughout a mammoth 32 minutes of court time to help seal a decisive win on the biggest club stage of all.
It is something which will have had her uncle and former USSR star, Valeri Tikhonenko smiling in approval. But most importantly, her father too - the Manager of Rostov Lokomotiv.
"It feels like I have played for a whole season in these first two games at the Final Eight," laughed the 21-year-old.
"I was actually in a state of shock that I was given so much time on the court, but I just kept going.
"Before the game, our coach (Alexander Vasin) explained how this was our most important test.
"It was also my dad's birthday and I was so excited and happy for him, that I dedicated my performance and the victory to him."
Having only briefly tasted action at the inaugural Final Eight in Istanbul during 2012, Tikhonenko was loaned out to Municipal Targoviste last season, following a similar route to the likes of her frontcourt partner, Natalia Vieru.
|Tikhonenko is next season set to combine with her rival from summers spent in the Russian youth system, Emma Meesseman of Belgium|
Now she is reaping the rewards and revelling in the responsibility of establishing herself as a potential leader with Sparta&K during coming years.
"Last season I was younger and I didn't play so well, but it was a good experience for me.
"This year, I have been given so many opportunities and I feel like I am now growing up as a player.
"Our team is very young, but the coach helps me so much in developing my game and teaching me how to play well."
Next season, Tikhonenko is unlikely to continue her education in EuroLeague Women, but will get to be reunited with a former adversary and now soon-to-be team-mate in the shape of former FIBA Europe Young Women's Player of the Year, Emma Meesseman.
The Belgian is set to move to Vidnoje from Villeneuve d'Ascq, where she is currently on loan.
When Tikhonenko debuted for Russia back at the U16 European Championship Women in Naples during 2009, the pair ended up on the All-Tournament Team together and a reunion can't come quick enough.
"I have known Emma for five years now and I am so happy that we will be playing together next year," smiled Tikhonenko.
"I am looking forward to the competition I will have from her and especially in practice.
"I will hopefully learn from her and hopefully she can learn something from me too."